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Women’s Bill: Cong, BJP issue whip
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 5
The Congress and main Opposition party - the BJP - has issued a whip to party members to be present in Rajya Sabha on Monday when the House takes up for consideration and passage the 13-year-old Women’s Reservation Bill

The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008, allocating 33 per cent quota for women on Parliament and state assemblies, is to be taken up by the Rajya Sabha on March 8, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

“A whip has been issued to party MPs to be present in the House on Monday," BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, adding, “It (the Bill) is a long standing commitment. We support it fully.”

Left is equally keen to pass this Bill.Congress president Sonia Gandhi has told MPs that the quota Bill will be a gift to women on March 8. But the Congress-led UPA is concerned about tackling the OBC parties of Lalu, Mulayam and Sharad Yadav, opposing the Bill in its present form. In the past they have stalled the House preventing even its introduction and they have threatened to repeat this feat yet again in the Upper House on Monday.

RJD president Lalu Yadav has already met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking for an all-party meeting on the issue.

Government’s floor managers are busy counting their numbers and bracing up for a showdown. As is the convention before any Constitutional Amendment Bill, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal today met representatives of all political parties to urge them to issue a whip to their members for passage of the Bill in the Upper House, the first hurdle before contentious legislation

With the Rajya Sabha strength of 245, the Government needs the support of 163 to see the Bill through. It has a clear support of 160, including 71 Congress, 45 BJP, 22 Left and seven AIADMK members.

A constitutional amendment requires at least 50 per cent attendance in the House and it has to be passed by a majority of 2/3rd. A Constitutional amendment has to pass through the motions of a Division and that means clearing the lobbies and putting the House in order.

The OBC parties opposing the Bill comprise of 27 members, clearly indicating overwhelming majority for the Women’s Bill. However it is the fence sitters, which include 58 UPA allies from DMK, BSP and Trinamool Congress, who can make all the difference.

Which is why, it is for the Government to hold its own on Monday. Since Monday and Fridays are the days when the attendance in Parliament is generally thin, the UPA is keen to have all its supporters in the House.

Government sources also indicated its willingness to go for amendments later if the opponents agree to drop their objections and help in building consensus.

In the second hurdle - the Lok Sabha - despite support from BJP and Left, it is not expected to be a smooth sailing for the Bill, which has invited opposition from several political parties over the years. While voices of dissent from parties like RJD, SP and JD(U) are out in the open, it seems Mayawati’s BSP is also not too gungho over the Bill.

BSP members have not yet opened their cards and Congress floor managers are trying to persuade them to fall in line to ensure that at least the first hurdle gets cleared without the drama that the House witnessed when the Bill was tabled.

Meanwhile, promoters of the Women’s Bill feel secure in the knowledge that “none of the three Yaduvanshi leaders (Lalu, Mulayam and Sharad) are members of the Upper House”.

After several failed attempts in the Lok Sabha, the Bill was introduced in the Council of States in the 14th Lok Sabha since the House of Elders is continuous body and a Bill introduced in the Upper House does not lapse.

The tabling of the Bill itself saw unprecedented drama. It was sent to the Standing Committee of the House and last week the Cabinet approved the Bill recommended by the committee. 



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